When I was younger, I was told that I shouldn’t meet my heroes, as it would only disappoint me. I mean, that may have been true when my hero was someone else…but my hero is Katya Zamolodchikova. As my friend Veronika, who has spent some time with Katya, so eloquently put it: from her ability to interact and connect with a multitude of people and give each of them a completely different experience and sense of connection to her, you can tell how truly emotionally intelligent Katya is. With my hand on my heart, I can promise that it felt as though Katya knew exactly what I needed from her on Sunday 27th August 2017 on both occasions our path aligned that day, and honestly it is what I have used to keep my spirits up since.
I feel like some context about me would be useful, and what Katya means to me within that sense of who I am. I’d never really been emotionally stable, but in 2015/16, my poor mental state came to a head after returning from my year abroad. During my time in Italy, I had the best moments of my life coincided with the worst moments (these negative moments taking place in the domestic setting with my flatmates).
To cut a long story short and save dangerous exposure of innocent parties, let’s just say that misery certainly does love company, and so by the time I left my housemates (which, I am sure you’ve guessed, were both more mentally unstable than what I was, one in particular, whom had come from the same university in England as me for the year and whom I, therefore, saw as my responsibility to look after), my mental breakdown was, unknown to me, imminent.
I re-entered university in England following my time away, only to find myself; not just completely mentally exhausted from dealing with the challenges of caring for my housemate, language learning, adapting to a different culture and being educated within a different academic system, but also now having to readapt to life in England after a lonely and confused summer at home in Northern Ireland in which my ‘friends’, whom I had known since high school, claimed I had changed negatively during my year abroad, and were acting coldly towards me, as though I had become completely intolerable to spend time with.
Many other issues on top of the above-mentioned led to a long-coming mental breakdown, four weeks before my final university deadlines, leading me to take a suspension of studies lasting 8 months. When I first came home after my breakdown, I had dropped below BMI owing to an inability to eat or sleep, and my speech was stilted and inarticulate. I was unable to think properly or process things without catastrophizing and I had this strange and constant pressure at the back of my skull I was scared would never leave.
When I finally ‘recovered’, going back to university in 2017 to finish my final year was a really difficult challenge for me. After therapy and having begun a course of medication for my anxiety disorder, I found myself still very down often and unable to let myself feel any emotion which I felt would open the over-emotional can of worms. I only pretended CBT was working for me when in fact I was going through the motions without meaning it. Real laughter was rare for me and the seriousness of having been given this 6-month lifeline to finish my degree hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was on the verge of beginning to panic all over again.
Luckily, one morning, while watching Alyssa’s secret (a web show I had found through loving Rupaul’s Drag Race), I noticed something else in my ‘recommended’ videos list: a web series with a name I couldn’t pronounce, featuring two season seven Drag Race contestants. Season 7 and 8 were two seasons I had only really half-heartedly watched at that stage. My friend, also a fan of Drag Race, urged me to watch the webseries and then to rewatch season 7 and focus on Katya. While watching the webshow (UNHhhh), I instantly fell in love with both Trixie and Katya, but especially Katya. A very special moment occurred for me in that I all at once realised I had found a kindred spirit. For me, this is a very rare thing – it has been very hard growing up for me as someone who felt very different from everyone around them, not just within school but in home life too, and not understanding why…just feeling mismatched, odd and peculiar within my surroundings.
When I rewatched season 7, it only confirmed to me how similar Katya and I, in fact, we both had issues with mental health, we both became addicted to things we were self-medicating with (in my case, spending money), we both have weird, boundless senses of humour and yet are super sensitive and intuitive to the feelings of others, and we both had felt defeated by the mainstream and found it hard to find our place…but yet were both so sure about wanting to stay weird, stay ourselves. The latter became much more apparent to be Katya’s outlook on things as I watched past periscope videos she had done as well as her various zany youtube series’. Watching Allstars 2 also showed me Katya’s positive example of persevering and trying until you succeed. Very quickly, Katya’s positive outlook in spite of her issues pervaded my own thought processes and some of her mantras became mine.
Eventually, the voice in my head late at night was no longer telling me I was a failure and that I couldn’t finish my dissertation. It was a reassuring voice, telling me how far I’d come, and how I didn’t need to panic anymore, because it was all going to be okay, and that I could succeed. Down the line a bit, I worked out the voice spurring me on was Katya’s. And pretty soon, my motivation was back. I was able to build myself up to work hard for my degree – and in the end, I came out with a first class honours. I achieved so highly, in fact, I was asked to be the speaker for my graduation ceremony. And of course, I had to mention Katya in my speech, quoting ‘the rather interesting philosopher B.J. McCook’ , using a quote I, if I ever got a tattoo, would in a heartbeat get inked on my skin forever: ‘When you swim upstream, it’s harder, but it’s for a reason.’
Bring It, Brenda
And if you don’t get what she means to me from that, then I cannot help you, Barbara. You’re beyond assistance. Can you even read?
*** I knew I had to tell Katya. I absolutely had to tell her what she meant to me, and what she had, without knowing it, done for me. When the advertisement for Drag World popped up on Facebook, I knew that was going to be a dream come true for me because she would be there. However, meet and greet tickets were sold out. Having trawled through the internet, I finally found someone selling a VIP pass for the Sunday of the event, which would allow me to meet Katya. It was official – I’d get to tell my hero how much she meant to me.
As the woman herself said, ‘I definitely had to make a statement’ to show her my love for her. So…I decided to; as well as putting a box of gifts I purchased and/or handmade together, to write her a song to perform live for her on my ukulele. I didn’t want it to be something too sentimental, as I knew others would be watching it happen. I also wanted to do it to prove to myself I could: part of my mental breakdown at university had involved struggling to perform musically, which, for a music student, is a fatal downfall in proceedings. The song ended up being about Katya being a perfect, model-like, scaly biological mother of dragons, who I love like an auntie and not in a creepy way (these are lyrics taken directly from the song).
Venturing to DragWorld UK
Finally, on Sunday 27th August, I arrived really early to the venue (at like 7:30 am) and waited for the VIP doors to open. Luckily, several other people soon arrived and so I didn’t really have time to get too nervous owing to all the excited chatter. Many others were due to see Katya at the early meet and greet session, which would begin at half past 10. When the VIP pass holders entered the hall, we were indeed some of the first few to get into the venue that day. The convention hall was filled with the brightest of early morning sunshine as I just casually strolled down the artist alley to have a look at the merchandise, becoming shopping buddies with the one and only Ginger Minj. It didn’t take long before a flash of red caught my eye from across the room, and of course, I had to follow it.
It was her. My hero. The woman herself, talking to the lovely ladies (with whom I had spoken to earlier) running her stall for her. I was awestruck by her beauty and the grace with which she moved, but also with her professional and business-like demeanor in the short time, I watched her. I didn’t approach her in that moment because I knew my time for meeting and greeting her was near, and she seemed rather hurried and unable to stop with fans (besides, I knew she was going to be absolutely inundated with fans with less notion of personal space pretty soon). So I just stared at her as she went about errands before her real day’s work began.
It’s time for the meet and greet
The next thing I remember, I was queuing for Katya’s meet and greet with a wonderful girl I had met the day before. She was planning to present Katya with a fan-book she had arranged and put together, containing hundreds of letters for Katya from fans from around the world. She gave me the honour of filming her presenting the book to Katya, and that interaction was a joy to watch, as well as, prior to that, watching Katya set up her area for meet and greet. Again, she was very business-woman and serious, making her environment perfect for both herself and her fans. When Katya’s lovely interaction with my friend was over, she turned to me, her hands on her hips and said, ‘Well you look like a crazy person!’
‘Yeah! Because I am!’ I replied, my hands shaking as I gathered together my autograph book, ukulele and gift for Katya. When I looked up, I could see she was laughing and smiling at me. Approaching her, I could already feel the warmth of her presence enveloping me: my hero was before me. At first, I rambled something about having had two seconds with her a couple of nights before at an event at a nightclub nearby, during which time I had given her a small gift which contained a pair of wind-up teeth that hop around.
Taking a few moments too wrack her brain, eventually she remembered the gift, telling me she had enjoyed the teeth (without me knowing, this little joke present would become a lot more relevant to the entire interaction with her overall!) After this short discussion, I presented her with the box of gifts I had put together, explaining them to her – a brain filled with her thoughts (all hand-written on small pieces of paper by me – things like ‘Have you seen my dead dog?’ and ‘I want some ravioli, baby!’) that she could wear upon her head, a bodysuit which I had ugly-embroidered with ‘cult leader’ and hot-glued googly eyes all over with the GAP tag still attached (she laughed when I said I’d left the label on so she could bring it back to the shop if she didn’t like it), a floral, problem pattern skirt with matching necklace and bracelet, and a set of giant battery operated fairy-lights she can wear as a necklace.
See me with them hands…
There was also a tiny children’s party noise-maker in the box (clapping hands which I had glued eyes onto as a reference to Katya’s favourite song, Same Parts: ‘See me with them hands…’) which I handed to her and told her to play along with me while I performed my song for her. As I played and sang, I watched out of the corner of my eye as she reacted to my lyrics and clapped the tiny hands, providing me with additional rhythm and confidence. She laughed at the humor in my song, as did the other spectators.
The girl who was filming for me was so good, and took lots of pictures of the most special moments of the meet and greet, as well – this was particularly important for me because it fully captured Katya’s reactions to my song both in real-time and still-shots. When I finished my song, the final lyric made Katya laugh smile and laugh especially, and she said, ‘Come here darling’, gesturing me into her embrace. It was the most amazing hug, which she repeated several times during this meet and greet and even more times during my second meet and greet with her later that day. One specific time, I remember her squeezing me so tightly, and then rubbing my arms affectionately, almost comfortingly, as though she knew when I walked away from her, I would need to remember what her hugs felt like in order to face the big, new challenges life would soon throw at me. She told me I was crazy, and that she loved it.
I then proceeded to tell her everything that she had done for me without knowing she had, and how her disembodied voice had been rooting for me to finish my degree, and how I had done. She gave me a kiss on both cheeks and asked could she sign my notepad. She wrote ‘Be your own dentist’ along with her autograph, which prompted me to tell her the story of how my father once pulled out his own molar with a pair of garden pliers. That was certainly a good end to my first meet and greet with her…but my second meet and greet, and what followed that, was the icing on the cake, for me, and makes me certain that Katya appreciated meeting me, and that she might well remember me.
Friends who drag together stay together…
Let me first explain who I attended Drag World with. I have known my friend Veronika (who I mentioned earlier) since May of this year. We became followers first on Instagram and then real life friends when we accidentally attended the same drag gig in Newcastle Upon Tyne. When I say that is meeting completely by chance, I sincerely mean it and am not hyperbolising – Veronika is from Germany and had spent her gap year in England, a year in which she also got into drag.
Her gap year coincided with my six month back in mainland UK finishing my degree and also getting into drag. So we ended up meeting in the line for the drag gig all those months ago by chance, and ended up hanging out for ages afterwards, during which time we discussed one topic alone: Katya. Like for me, Katya means a lot to Veronika (I shan’t get into the details of this, as it is her story, and not mine, to tell), so naturally, when we both found out we would be going to Drag World, we were buzzing. I had no idea I would end up spending basically the entire weekend with Veronika, but it was the best way I could ever have experienced this magical time. Right before I went to queue for my last meet and greet with Katya, I arranged for Veronika to be able to go to the autograph alley to meet Katya. This was an incredible surprise for her because she didn’t think she would be able to meet Katya again at all that day.
Right before I went to queue for my last meet and greet with Katya, I arranged for Veronika to be able to go to the autograph alley to meet Katya. This was an incredible surprise for her because she didn’t think she would be able to meet Katya again at all that day and would be returning to Germany where she was unlikely to be able to see Katya again for some time. As I was queuing, I could see Veronika at the side to watch me meeting Katya, because she hadn’t seen our interaction that morning.
When I got to the front of the queue, Katya gave me another one of her very beautiful, toothy, red-lipped grins and then pulled a face, and said, ‘What you’re BACK, but I already had to SAY goodbye to you today!’ We both laughed as she gave me a hug again.
‘I just wanted to come and say goodb-…what? You remember me?’ I said with surprise – I looked a little differently this time around, after all, as I had taken my blonde wig off and my skirt, so that I could show her the outfit I had forgotten to show her last time around.
‘Of course, I remember you! You are absolutely insane! Oh my God, what are you even wearing? ‘Tickle my uvula with a spork, Diane’…WHAT? That is so funny!’
She had just read my leotard, which I had embroidered myself. I then bowed my head a little so she could see my beret. She took her time with me, reading all the quotes of hers I had embroidered myself.
‘Did you make all this yourself?’ she asked me, and I nodded.
‘I did! Because I was meeting you, I wanted to show you some appreciation for your art through trying to do some art myself. I hope you like it.’
‘Oh, I love it! It’s so creative!’ she smiled, hugging me again, holding me in her arms and burying me in plumes of red, flowing tulle as she asked, ‘have you met any other queens today?’
I told her yes, I had, and she asked did I play music for any other queens. I told her no, not for any queens except her, because she was special to me. But I did say I had been entertaining some other fans in queues with some Trixie Mattel covers. She smiled so widely when I said that, and I sort of flailed a little and said, ‘Oh my gosh, that smile is so gorgeous!’ She smiled shyly and giggled, softly thwoorping her fan in front of her face. She took several selfies of us with my phone for me, after which I turned to her and said, ‘I’m really going to miss you, thank you so much for everything, you make me so happy!’
‘You make me happy! Thank you so much for your gifts and for the song! You’re the best, I love you, you’re so crazy!’ the hug she gave me then was wonderful, almost like she was going to miss me. I distinctly remember the little nose scrunch she did when she said ‘you’re the best’like I had really made her feel happy and special. In return, it made me feel very happy and most definitely special. She gave me a Starburst candy (red to match my outfit) and asked me, ‘When am I gonna get to see you again?’
‘Well, I’m coming to see your show in February, and I have a meet and greet, so then, I guess,’ I smiled, my heart fluttering at the question she had just asked me.
‘Oh, perfect! We’ll see each other than, I guess! Goodbye,’ she looked sad as I was leaving and I didn’t like that, so I decided I wanted to make her laugh one last time. As I was leaving, I poked my head back around the side of the wall and whispered, ‘Bye’ in a slightly creepy voice, and then the last thing I see is her almost falling backward of her chair and wheezing with hysterical laughter
Until Next Time….
However, little did I know, as I went around to the other side of the meet and greet wall to try to find Veronika and seek comfort for my uncontrollable sobbing which thankfully I had managed to hold back until after saying goodbye to Katya, Veronika was actually herself in the meet and greet queue. I ran around again in time to see Veronika queuing and waved at her, tears running down my face. It turned out that a woman who had to leave early gave Veronika her meet and greet ticket for free. I was so excited to be able to watch Veronika interact with Katya one more time…and I did. I watched my wonderful, amazing friend Veronika THANK KATYA FOR BEING SO GOOD TO ME, and reinstated how much I love her once again to her. Veronika told me afterward Katya had said that I was so bonkers and she absolutely loved me.
I cannot believe that this is my story to tell. I feel so fulfilled every time I think of this experience, It has helped me through some really, really awful moments of anxiety in the month since it occurred, and for me, February cannot come soon enough so that I can wrap my noodle arms around my auntie Katya again! She was just so intuitive when it came to giving me what I needed while we were interacting. I will never forget these moments for as long as I live.
So…to conclude, maybe if you listen to what people say about not meeting your heroes, you are truly missing out on the greatest moment of your life. I don’t know – it’s a risk, in my opinion, everyone should try to take if they can.